In the latest release of the Times Higher Education rankings, ANU has experienced a drop from 62nd to 67th in the global standings, making the University fourth overall in the country according to both QS and Times. 

This fall in rankings, however, is not exclusive to ANU. Australia’s top 10 universities have also experienced a comparable decline. Notably, the University of Sydney dropped six places to its current rank of 60th, the University of Melbourne slipped three places to 37th, and the University of Queensland experienced a significant drop of 17 places, now ranking 70th.

Many academics are attributing this collective decline to the lingering effects of COVID-19 on the tertiary education sector. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Gwilym Croucher, Associate Professor at the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education expressed that Australia’s border closures during 2020 and 2021 played an instrumental role in this drop. 

Times Higher Education Chief Global Affairs Officer Phil Baty also affirmed that “the relative isolation of the country during the pandemic is showing up in the data to detrimental effect on universities.” The stringent border closures in Australia compelled numerous international students to shift their studies online, leading to a sizable number of students switching to universities in other countries. 

ANU, like other Australian universities, relies heavily on international students for a significant portion of its revenue. Oxford University’s Professor of Higher Education Simon Marginson underlined the fact that while most countries have their research funded by the government, “about 30 percent of the research capacity of universities before the pandemic was being carried by international student fees.”

The drop in international student enrollment from 30% to 26% in Australia can be explained by the domino effect of border closures, international student enrollment and research investment. 

Times has also made significant changes to its ranking metrics. Previously, ‘field-weighted citation impact’ stood as the sole metric in the ‘Research Quality’ pillar. However, this year, three new metrics have been introduced: Research Strength, Research Excellence and Research Influence.

Mr Baty contended that “while the rankings show Australia has historically very high levels of research quality, current figures show a relative under-investment in research.” 

He further revealed that other universities have outpaced the research investment of Australian universities. ANU’s 2022 financial results identified research funding, especially research block grants as one of the key reasons for a decline in revenue. 

Research funding saw a decrease of $11.2 million in 2022. In addition to causing a decline in revenue, it also partly explains ANU’s diminished research performance in the 2024 rankings. The ANU admitted to this being caused by an “underperformance in the sector.”

As the ANU’s ranking has dropped in Times, after it also saw a significant drop in the QS Rankings, students may have questions about ANU’s strategies to improve its standing in the future. ANU’s future success will be greatly influenced by its commitment to focusing on research investment and sustainability.

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